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Nine days of sport and culture in Beirut


Latest update : 2009-09-27

Lebanon plays host to the nine-day Francophone Games starting Sunday, an event that it is hoped will improve the country's image abroad. Some 3,000 athletes from 42 countries will be taking part in six sports disciplines and seven cultural events.

AFP - Lebanon from Sunday plays host to the Francophone Games, a four-yearly event that organisers hope will shine a positive spotlight on a country long rocked by political unrest.

Some 3,000 athletes and participants from 42 countries are expected for the September 27-October 6 extravaganza, which will be held under tight security.

Mahaman Lawan Seriba, head of the international committee for the games, told AFP that the event will allow Lebanon to gain some long-needed positive international exposure.

"The games will allow Lebanon to portray itself for what it is: a peaceful country, a creative country capable of hosting such an event, a country that is diverse and hospitable," Seriba said.

"At such a time one forgets the political adversity and the fact that there is no government," Seriba added.

He was referring to protracted and ongoing negotiations between Lebanon's Western-backed parliamentary majority and a Hezbollah-led opposition on forming a government since a June election.

The games will kick off with a lavish ceremony attended by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, the secretary general of the Francophonie organisation, Abdou Diouf, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Prince Albert of Monaco and some 40 ministers from participating countries.

World celebrities including Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour, Lebanese singer Magida el-Roumi, Lebanese-born composer Gabriel Yared and 100 other musicians and dancers will take part in the opening ceremony being held at the capital's Camille Chamoun sports stadium.

The games will be divided in two parts with athletes competing in six sports disciplines, including athletics, women's basketball, boxing and table tennis. Participants will also be competing in seven cultural events, including painting, sculpture, photography and creative dance.

Organisers for months have been sprucing up the venues for the games that will be contested in Beirut, the southern coastal city of Sidon and other regions and have been hoping for calm in a country which just over a year ago stood on the brink of civil war.

Many countries initially were hesitant to send athletes but were later encouraged by the relative calm that Lebanon has enjoyed in the past year.

Security for the event will be tight with thousands of soldiers and police deployed around the various venues and at the so-called Francophone Village outside Beirut where participants will be staying.

"I urge all political parties to exercise restraint ... as the Francophone Games approach," prime minister-designate Saad Hariri said earlier this month, describing the event as important for the country's image.

Wahib Tatar, a member of the Lebanese committee for the games, said the event should not only shine a positive spotlight on Lebanon but would also help the country's economy.

"This should be great for the economy considering the number of delegations coming here, the number of journalists covering the event and the number of hotel rooms booked," Tatar said.

The largest delegation will be from Canada, with 300 participants, followed by France with 200 and Lebanon with 150. Other countries taking part include Rwanda, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Chad and Cyprus.

The games were first held in Morocco in 1989 and were last held in 2005 in Niger.

Date created : 2009-09-27